Five sixth-grade students and their teachers from Ballico Elementary School will attend the presidential inauguration this week after winning an online competition thanks to support from their school and community.
Students Riley Dickey, Nathan Harding, Andres Mercado, Marisol Mercado and Jocelyn Paz-Ortiz will attend the Envision Presidential Inauguration Leadership Summit, which includes the inauguration; the inauguration gala; museum and monument visits; and speaker sessions with leaders such as Gen. Colin Powell, Spike Lee, and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai. They will be accompanied by their teachers, Kristi Abraham and Johnny Guillen.
Abraham entered her school in the “Chase the Race in School” contest, sponsored by Envision and Discovery Education, months before the election. To win, the schools needed to garner the most votes through online voting and social media sharing.
Students in one of the county’s smallest schools voted daily, and parents and community members encouraged voting on Facebook as well. One day, Andres checked online to see where the school landed and saw his school’s name in fifth place. From there, Ballico shot up to first place, where it remained for the rest of the contest, beating out 35,000 other entries.
“I didn’t think we’d win until Andres screamed out in class that we were in fifth place,” Abraham said, laughing. “It’s really great to see a small community come together and offer so much support.”
The sixth-grade students did more than vote online to prepare for the upcoming transition of power. The “Chase the Race” program works to engage the youth voice on the importance of democracy and civic engagement. The program provided resources to bring the election events to life through classroom activities.
The two classes researched each candidate – not just the two major party nominees – and their policies on hot issues, such as climate change, gun control and health care. They also studied the voting process and were surprised to find that Mickey Mouse has historically received more votes than registered write-in candidates.
“People always focus on the bad parts of the candidates,” Marisol said.
“That’s because those are the things that need to be fixed,” Riley added.
The sixth-graders presented their findings objectively to other classes and organized an election for the school’s third-grade students. (Hillary Clinton won.)
“I feel like my sixth-graders are more informed than many adult voters,” Abraham said.
To decide who got to go on the trip, five names were drawn from a hat that included all 41 sixth-graders.
“I cried tears of joy,” Andres said. “I didn’t hear anyone else’s name after that.”
Nathan said he’s an “airplane freak” and is excited to visit the National Air and Space Museum. Jocelyn was most excited to hear Malala Yousafzai speak.
Perhaps Marisol summed up all the students’ reactions best: “Am I dreaming?”
For updates on the trip and to read more about the contest and students’ projects, go to https://6thgradeballicodctrip2017.wordpress.com.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477